Football can be a cruel game.
Over the weekend, both Collingwood and Richmond suffered heartbreaking defeats that could prove to be the tipping point in their seasons.
Both clubs entered the season with the future of their coaches (Nathan Buckley and Damien Hardwick) constantly under speculation after both clubs endured 2016 seasons they would rather forget.
Buckley won’t be breathing any easier this week after his Pies went down to the GWS Giants by three points to crash to their sixth loss from eight outings so far this year.
They had led for the majority of the match and kept the Giants honest right up until the final minute, but, according to Buckley, they “weren’t good enough for long enough”.
After conceding the first two goals of the match, it looked like the Pies would be in for a long night, but six goals on the bounce would see them take a 26-point lead into the first change.
It looked like from that point that the Pies would continue their domination of the AFL’s youngest club, having defeated them in each of the previous five encounters, three of them at Spotless Stadium and two at the MCG.
Indeed, in the corresponding match last year they submitted one of their two best performances for the season with a 32-point win, the victory marshalled by a nine-goal second quarter and a four-goal haul from Travis Cloke.
That came after they’d conceded seven goals in the first quarter and trailed by 24 points at the first change.
But it was a different story this time around, as the Pies lost their way after the first change to have their lead cut to just one point at half-time after the Giants worked their way back into the match.
The third quarter saw the Pies respond almost immediately each time the Giants kicked a goal, and they went into the final change one point down but still in with a chance to register their third win of the season.
Defender Brayden Maynard kicked a goal within a minute of the final quarter starting to put the Pies back in front, and the trading of goals between the two sides continued.
Then, with five minutes remaining, the Pies held a slender four-point lead and coach Nathan Buckley thought he’d done enough to engineer another upset victory by his side, having already claimed the scalps of the Sydney Swans and Geelong Cats earlier in the year.
A game-saving smother by Henry Schade on Jeremy Cameron (who, by the way, has taken the lead on the Coleman Medal leaderboard) appeared to be the winning act, but what happened in the 45 seconds afterwards might haunt Buckley for the rest of his coaching career.
The Giants went forward again in the final minute and Steve Johnson, whose poor form this season had attracted criticism, latched onto the ball at a contest and kicked the goal that would put his side in front for good.
Eventually, the Pies would go down by just three points, leaving more questions to be asked of Nathan Buckley’s career as speculation starts to grow that he could be moved on at season’s end.
The fact that their opponents could only operate on a one-man bench in the final minutes of the match will also be a point of discussion when the Pies conduct their match review this week.
Though contrasting when you consider the performances and the circumstances, it was similar to how Melbourne lost to a half-strength Giants side by 64 points back in Round 21, 2014.
On that occasion, the Giants lost both co-captains Phil Davis and Callan Ward, and forward Jonathon Patton (who suffered another knee injury which would sideline him for 12 months), to game-ending injuries before half-time.
This time, they lost Aidan Corr in the opening ten seconds after he suffered a heavy fall on the first play of the game, while Sam Reid and Stephen Coniglio would also finish the match on the sidelines.
With a resurgent Hawthorn to come this Saturday night and a nine-match losing streak against them dating back to Round 1, 2012, things are unlikely to get any better for the Pies or coach Buckley.
Another defeat will cast more doubt over his career, the club having slowly regressed since he took over from Mick Malthouse at the end of the 2011 season.
In fact, the origin of this regression can be traced back to the 2010 premiership win.
Since then, they finished runners-up to the Geelong Cats in 2011, fell in the preliminary final to a side they hadn’t lost to for over seven years in 2012, and were knocked out in the first round of the finals in 2013.
They then crashed to a 10th-placed finish in 2014, sidelining them from September action for the first time since 2005, and then finished 12th in each of the last two seasons.
The Pies were in a strong position to reach the finals in 2014 and 2015, but suffered poor second halves of both seasons to finish outside of the eight.
With a current season record of 2-6 it will be hard seeing them break their finals hoodoo this year, their ongoing absence from September the worst since the period between 1995 and 2001 inclusive in which they missed seven straight finals series and won the wooden spoon in 1999.
Richmond, on the other hand, were left to lament yet their second heartbreaking loss to Fremantle at the MCG in the space of nearly two years.
When Brandon Ellis kicked what appeared to be the match-winning goal with 25 seconds remaining, the Tigers thought they’d completed an amazing comeback after they had trailed by 33 points in the third quarter.
But what would follow will also no doubt haunt coach Damien Hardwick for the rest of his coaching career.
The Dockers, through 100-gamer Lachie Neale, would clear the centre bounce that followed and his kick would find David Mundy, who was tasked with kicking the match-winning goal after the final siren.
The former captain would do just that, sentencing the Tigers to a two-point defeat and in the process giving his side their fifth win of the season and their fifth win in their last six matches at the MCG.
Mundy had previously broken yellow and black hearts when he kicked the match-winning goal in Round 17, 2015, though that came well before the final siren with over a minute remaining.
Cruelly, for Richmond fans, it came a year to the day since Sam Lloyd kicked the match-winning goal after the final siren to give the Tigers a one-point win against the Sydney Swans on a Saturday night at the MCG.
The Tigers were also on the wrong end of a post-siren result when Karmichael Hunt famously kicked the winning goal for the Gold Coast Suns in Cairns back in 2012.
That broke a 12-month drought for the Suns, their previous win having also come against the Tigers in Cairns in mid-2011.
Back on topic now, and the Tigers’ third-straight defeat came after they had started the season 5-0 for the first time since 1995, the club having apparently turned a corner after a horror 2016 season in which they finished 13th and kicked the season’s lowest score, 3.5 (23).
In fact, the Tigers come up against the team they scored that dismally lowly total against, the GWS Giants, this Saturday night at Spotless Stadium.
They’ll have fond memories of their last visit to the Sydney Showground, when Jack Riewoldt kicked a personal-best 11 goals and Tiger-turned-Giant Brett Deledio marked his 200th game with a 113-point victory.
But the Giants side they will face this weekend will pose a much different threat than the one that copped the most recent of their twelve 100-point-plus defeats way back in Round 10, 2014.
Apart from Riewoldt, of the Richmond side that lined up against Fremantle at the MCG yesterday, Trent Cotchin, Shane Edwards, Brandon Ellis, Shaun Grigg, Dylan Grimes, Bachar Houli, Dustin Martin and Alex Rance all remain from that 2014 match.
And from the GWS side that lined up against Collingwood on Saturday night, Jeremy Cameron, Stephen Coniglio, Aidan Corr, Josh Kelly, Shane Mumford, Jonathon Patton, Tom Scully, Heath Shaw, Devon Smith, Adam Tomlinson, Callan Ward and Lachie Whitfield are their survivors.
That’s over half the side that endured that horrific afternoon in front of just 8,331 fans. The result left many questioning what they really stood for as a club, and they have not copped another triple-figure defeat since.
However, past experience will count for nothing and the Tigers will start underdogs against the Giants, who are starting to play consistently well after being thumped by the Adelaide Crows at the Oval in the opening round.
At 5-3, the Tigers appear set for a decent finish on the ladder, but another loss this Saturday night will cast some doubt as to whether they are serious finals contenders or whether they’re going to make up the numbers in September, as they did in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
To finish off, the cruel nature in which both Collingwood and Richmond lost their Round 8 matches could prove to be the tipping point in their seasons.
For the Pies, that could have been yet another nail in the coffin of Nathan Buckley’s coaching career, while for the Tigers, their third straight loss could trigger fears of a slide down the ladder.
It’ll be interesting to see how, for both clubs, the rest of the season transpires.